Guest post: Taiwanese food

In this guest post, Megan Johnson of RedAroundTheWorld.com tells us about her experience visiting Taiwan and trying the food there. Though she found many things “weird”, she gamely tried several different things, as she reports here.

Have you tried any of Megan’s finds? What did you think? Weird or wonderful?

Taiwan has some really spectacular food and some really, uhh, interesting food.  It’s not all great, but is it all great anywhere?  I was on a mission to try as much of it as I could and I’m here to share short stories of experiences with the good and bad, but all must try, foods of Taiwan. 

xiaolong-bao

Xiaolong bao. Photo by Megan Johnson.

 
XiaoLong Bao
 
We got to Taipei 101 and parked.  Going in, even after asking, I wasn’t sure where we were eating.  I saw din tai fung and I was hoping that was it.  Spoiler alert: it was.
 
We took a number, placed our order, and waited.  Finally, our number was called and we were taken to the table.  There was already soy sauce, vinegar, and ginger ready to mix. 
 
The xiaolong bao (pork soup dumplings) came out and it was the moment of truth.  I had to learn to use chopsticks.  I picked them up, hoped I was doing it right and dove right in.  Thankfully the dumplings stuck to the chopsticks making it much easier. 
 
I dipped one in the sauce mixture, put it in the weird spoon thing, poked a hole to mix the soup and vinegar soy sauce, and indulged in far too many delicious drops of soupy dumpling heaven.
 
Beef Noodles
first-time-with-chopsicks

Megan Johnson experimenting with chopsticks. Photo via Megan Johnson.

 
I was intimidated by the food still and really didn’t know how to use chopsticks, especially for beef noodles.  I was in a little town on Taiwan’s east coast and it was busy.  I felt the pressure.
 
I stuck out like a sore thumb, even more than usual because of my struggle with eating.  I got in line and ordered what I hoped were the famous beef noodles.  I sat and hoped I knew when to pick my food up.  I didn’t get anything to drink because I couldn’t figure out how to order it and the line was long.
 
Eventually, I got my food, the right food, and tried to eat.  The bowl was full of deliciousness, but hard to eat with chopsticks, noodles, giant chunks of beef, and a soothing beefy broth. 
 
After eating it once, I had it at least three more times in the month I was there.  Sometimes I would just get the noodles in the beefy broth without the beef chunks.  Both were delicious and enjoyable.

Large Fried Chicken
 
There were three of us and this was our first stop at the Shilin Night Market in Taipei.  I was much more comfortable with the food by now, but couldn’t pass up “hot star large fried chicken”. 
 
large-fried-chicken

Megan Johnson with an order of hot star large fried chicken. Photo by the author.

We got in line and ordered our spicy chicken.  The stall was in front of a movie theater, which I thought was weird to be in a night market, but it was shelter from the constant drizzle. 

There I was, feeding total strangers.  We had met that afternoon and were bonding over fried chicken the size of my head in front of a movie theater in a Taiwanese night market.
 
The chicken had some bones, but we worked our way around them, getting as much out of that delicious piece as we could.  Sometimes I daydream of the crunchy chicken with mystery spices when I get hungry.
 
Steamed Sesame Buns
 
It was a stop somewhere along the east coast for snacks and a bathroom break.  There was a small shop with tons of buns: steamed buns with various fillings. 
 
I got one pork and two sesame.  The pork was good, but there were some fatty chunks in it that I didn’t enjoy.  The sesame buns were perfectly sweet and slightly reminiscent of peanut butter. They’re a delicious vegetarian treat or just a perfect dessert.  I could have eaten these steamed buns all day, but I wanted to eat them warm, so I only had a couple.  And really, who buys 15 steamed sesame buns at once?
 
Stinky Tofu
 
stinky-tofu

Stinky tofu. Photo by Megan Johnson. 

I had read about stinky tofu.  I watch Andrew Zimmern try it on Bizarre Foods.  But I still wasn’t prepared for the assault on my nostrils.  And my mouth.

It was a night market in Kaohsiung and three of us were going to split the dish.  I smelled it before I saw it. The wind blows the stink around and it can be hard to tell where it’s coming from.  The smell fades, a breeze comes, and it’s back in your face. 
 
When it arrived I reluctantly dug in.  The smell is like stinky, rotten, fermented feet.  At first, it tastes pretty alright and I thought “I can do this!”  Then it hit me.  It tasted exactly like it smelled and I wanted to throw up, but I didn’t.  I finished my tiny piece and politely declined more and promptly finished my papaya milk.
Oyster Vermicelli
oyster-vermicelli

Oyster vermicelli. Photo by Megan Johnson.

 
I don’t like seafood, and I know that.  But someone was showing me around and she decided I NEEDED to try it.  That’s cool.  It’s one of the must try dishes in Taiwan.
 
I struggled getting the noodles onto the spoon thing.  I just didn’t really know how to eat it.  The oysters were kind of slimy.  Mixed with noodles I didn’t mind, but I got a few on their own. 
 
It would be perfect for a chilly, drizzly day, which Taiwan gets plenty of.  I see the appeal of it, and without the oysters, it’s delicious. 
 
Taro Ball Soup
 
Jiufen Old Street, in New Taipei City, is a chaotic experience with tons of food. Some of the food was really unique — I only saw it there during my entire visit to Taiwan.  Taro ball soup is just one example.
 
This looked appealing.  It’s a mystery broth with green, yellow, and purple taro balls in it.  It can be served hot or cold, which I thought was weird, but food came at unexpected temperatures a lot in Taiwan.
 
I ordered it hot, found a seat, took some pictures, and warily dug in.  Regardless of color, the taro balls all tasted the same, kind of flour-y, and were a weird texture.  Almost gummy, but not.  It was weird. 
 
I don’t know if it would be much better cold, but I don’t think I’ll be dying to try it anytime in the near future.  It was odd.
 
While I had a hard time getting adjusted to the food during my time in Taiwan, I made sure to try as much as I could once I was more open to it.  I struggled with some things, but don’t let that stop you.  Order things that you don’t know what they are and enjoy the experiences that come from it.  Even with the foods you don’t enjoy, you’ll come out with an entertaining story.
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Megan Johnson; photo via the author.

Megan Johnson is a Wisconsin native currently working her way around the US, exploring other countries any chance she gets.  Megan says, “you can probably find me hiking, reading, or drinking coffee.  If there’s a beach, I’ll probably be on it”. Follow along with her adventures on her website RedAroundTheWorld.com or on Instagram: @RedAroundTheWorld

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